The Endgame

January 17, 2019

What might the end of the partial government shutdown look like? Of course the answer to that question is based on the assumption that Trump and Pelosi are able to put the national interest ahead of politics and ego. This might be too much to ask, but let’s give it the ol’ college try or better yet the ol’ rational leader try.

Scenario # 1 – Republican leaders in both house of Congress start to really feel the heat from constituents, especially those people standing in airport security lines for hours, and muster sufficient votes to override Trump’s veto ending the shutdown. Two-thirds of both the Senate and House would have to be on board but if Mitch McConnell gives the OK, Trump could save face and say he tried but Congress overruled him on the wall. This is not some wild/implausible scenario because politicians know when to “fold them” if they feel voter wrath.

Scenario # 2 – Nancy Pelosi uses some new number for border security and the wall in exchange for major immigration reform – protecting the Dreamers,  ending the roadblocks for those seeking asylum, and maybe even beginning a process of establishing a pathway to citizenship to those here illegally. Such a mega deal is likely a bit far fetched but Trump is so boxed into a corner right now that he might agree to a larger reform if he could claim some sort of victory, any victory.

Scenario # 3 – Government employees go to the streets and use the power of the media to further erode Trump’s position. Right now what is presented on news programs are singular stories of hardship, but if thousands of workers march on Washington or to the offices of members of Congress then a protest movement is formed that would be impossible to ignore. Add a bit of non-violent sit down strikes into the mix and those in power will be hard pressed to look away.

Scenario # 4 – Major business leaders band together and buy television time, stage a Twitter attack on Trump and reach out to members of Congress demanding that the shutdown end because it is costing their business and the national economy a fortune. If Congress won’t listen to the federal workers or CNN, they just might listen to the big banks, the Fortune 500 companies and all those billionaires who just want to end the uncertainty. Can you imagine the impact that public comments from Warren Buffett or Bill Gates demanding an end to shutdown would have on the White House and Congress?

Scenario # 5 – The President gives his State of the Union and continues his tirade against the Democrats for denying him the wall; Pelosi refuses to budge; the federal workers head deeper into debt, the country inches a bit closer to a recession, and Americans lose whatever confidence they have in government. The mess continues.

God Save the United States.

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2018 – If You Think This Year Was A Mess, Wait Until 2019

December 11, 2018

As 2018 comes to a end there are countless reviews of what happened of consequence during the year and where we may be headed in 2019. As is often the case, the review of the past is mostly negative and the future is described as uncertain. So as not to shy away from this exercise of yearly review and prognostication, here is my take on the past and the future.

If politics, governing, leadership and public policy is your passion, 2018 could only make your confidence level take a sharp turn downwards. Almost everyday brings new revelations about presidential misconduct or at the very least presidential incompetence. Democrats and Republicans still can’t get along much less get legislation moving forward. Members of the cabinet are increasingly being shown as crooks and bogus charlatans.  And the media still can’t shake the fake news label, despite being more open and accurate than those in the White House. Not a day goes by when honest and thoughtful Americans wonder whether they live in an emerging authoritarian state or at the very least a very bad dream.

If the economy, jobs, GDP and spending power are your passion, 2018 would likely bring a smile to your face. Americans are on a spending spree ( mostly with credit cards), jobs are plentiful ( despite little real wage growth), data on key indicators show the US leading the major countries of the world ( at least for the time being), and overall consumer confidence is strong ( but could change in a heart beat). 2018 was a “good year” for most Americans, which is why President Trump continues to have a solid approval rate; there is nothing like a upbeat economy to make a president, any president look like a genius.

If values, mood, beliefs, standards, judgment and truth are your passion than 2018 was in crisis mode. There were very disturbing upticks in hate crimes, outright bigotry, shameless lying, a fundamental decline in basic decency, and just plain disinterest in searching for what is real and what is clearly false. The American Dream is under attack; the American Rule of Law is under attack, the American Governing Traditions are under attack, and the American Political Culture is under attack. The old days of cooperation,compromise and consensus have been replaced with gut-wrenching anger.

All in all 2018 gets mixed reviews with a definite lean towards the negative side. If grades are given, probably a C+ or if you were one of the lucky ones to benefit from the upper end tax cut or generous bonuses or job security than perhaps a B-. A mediocre year at best.

Now to 2019. There is not a prognosticator out there who knows where we are headed in the coming year, but there are sufficient signs in the wind to suggest that 2019 will be considerably worse than 2018.

In politics and government the I word will fill the airwaves and office conversations, that is I as in impeachment, indictment, investigations.  Again, not much in the public policy area will get done as Washington and America is consumed by what transpires in the White House. Political divisions will only increase, Twitter storms will increase, charges and counter charges will increase and institutional gridlock will rule the day. The unexpected, the uncertain, the unconstitutional will dominate. A real mess.

In the economy, 2019 could be the year of economic downturn, perhaps a recession.  Growth will stagnate, 401Ks will take a hit, joblessness will creep upwards and income inequality will continue to take the country further and further apart. No one knows where the tariff wars will be headed but one thing is certain, our national debt will climb upwards to the point where we will be putting more of our budget dollars into interest payments rather than toward substantive programs.

As to our national condition, 2019 will only bring uncertainty and disappointment and of course anger, always anger. The confluence of terrible politics and weakening economics can only create a nation of lost Americans who will question where their once great country is headed and whether their personal security and economic future are in grave danger. In short, Not Good.

At this early point the grade for 2019 is a C-, perhaps a D+. As someone who graded thousands, upon thousands of papers, I have been wrong and at the request of the aggrieved student took another look and maybe even made a change. This could also happen as 2019 plays out but right now this country is heading into uncharted territory with only trouble on the horizon.

 

 

 


Democratic Values v.The Forgotten

October 30, 2018

Talk to any critic of President Trump and they will likely say that he has ignored, weakened or destroyed our democratic values – the rule of law, freedom of expression, respect for diversity and inclusion, and a welcoming and humane spirit. Talk to any of his supporters and they will likely say that President Trump has strengthened the economy, put money into the hands of those the liberals have forgotten, taken strong steps to rein in illegal immigration and expanded our military while sending a clear message to the world that the United States is a nation to be reckoned with. Those who detest the President see him as a buffoon who is only out for himself; those who idolize him see the President as someone who speaks the language of those who have had no voice in American politics and are mad as hell.

While the current wave of polarization can be viewed from numerous perspectives, the great divide is really about what we stand for as a nation versus what we have forgotten as a people. A mid-term election of Democrats in the House or perhaps the Senate may temper this divide a tiny bit by checking the White House but it surely is not going to close the deep gap over what we stand for versus what we used to be as a people. In the days before we became divided the middle class acted as the “great stabilizer” as prosperity was spread over a wide spectrum of the populace leading to a general consensus on the American Dream and the commitment to build consensus and centrism in our political life. Today the middle class is in shambles with too many people either outright poor or unable to make it from paycheck to paycheck. Why should these forgotten Americans care about democratic values and proper norms of presidential behavior when they believe the elites don’t care about them or the precariousness of their economic predicament. Throw in a healthy dose of racism or at the very least the perception of unfair advantages for minorities and democratic values mean little to those who wear the Make America Great Again hat.

If there is a resolution of this great divide it is returning to the days when the economic pie was more evenly allocated, when Democrats stood fore square for the working man and woman,  when Republicans remembered that great power requires great responsibility and when we treat all Americans no matter their race, religion, ethnicity and gender characteristics as worthy of respect, decency and equality. That is a tall order and an outcome that unfortunately is years away given the current climate of distrust and hate. It would help if we had calming leaders, political cooperation, less anger and more compromise, and perhaps most of all just plain quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Thankful for Small Favors

February 14, 2018

It should come as no surprise to anyone with an appreciation of how President Trump and the Republican Congress played the ” forgotten American” card and advanced what some have called a “peasants revolt” that poll numbers show a small but important spike in support for The Donald and the GOP. It all comes down to the simple fact that Americans got their tax cut reward in their take home pay.

It really makes no difference whether the reward was the $ 1.50 a week praised by Speaker Ryan or the more common $ 50-$100 bump a month for many working Americans. Progressives and leftist economists can point out until they are blue in the face that the tax cut is skewed toward the wealthy and big corporations, but most Americans have never really been upset over what the rich get out of tax cuts compared to what they receive in their pay envelope.  They are just thankful for small favors.

Democrats continue to fail at understanding the “forgotten” or the “peasants” and believe that harping on the inequality of the cuts will somehow weaken the Trump base and bring about the end of Trumpism. The response of the tax cuts to many Americans is simple human nature-more in my pocket is a good thing, less for the government is even better. The amount in the pocket is not as important as the fact that it is found money, a small favor.

Of course Trump and the Republicans are by no means out of the woods; there is the huge bump in the fiscal year deficit, the burgeoning national debt, the new signs of inflation, the wild ride of the stock market, and of course more stupid tweets and White House dysfunction. But again most Americans don’t sit up nights worrying about deficits, debts, inflation and the impact on their grandchildren; that extra cash in their pockets is what matters. I rarely run into someone who is even remotely concerned about the economic and financial impact of Republican tax policies on the security and lifestyle of their grandkids. It is much like the real threat from global warming – somehow the future will take of itself, what is important is the here and now.

The Democrats continue to show that they are riding the wave of rejection of Trump and the GOP but don’t count the Republicans out of the game as Trump and the conservatives will continue to play to the base by touting the tax cut. It just might work, especially if the Democrats forget what Clinton’s campaign adviser James Carville said, ” It’s the economy stupid.”

 


I Love Starbursts, Trump Candy

January 17, 2018

Against the better judgment of my daughter Kathy who is a nurse, I too often go down the candy aisle and throw a package of Starbursts into the shopping cart.  My favorite Starbursts are the the red ones – cherry and strawberry.  I know they are not good for me, but my will power against sugar is weak.

So when I heard that Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority Leader, sought to gain the attention and support of President Trump by sending him a whole candy bowl of red Starbursts, I was immediately conflicted.  I understand the attraction of the “reds”, but I was worried that gaining the ear of a president by giving him candy is to say the least troublesome.

Now every president has their weak spots and preferences whether it is cute puppies, high end Scotch or beautiful blondes, but the candy strategy is a new one and says a lot about how to get to the President when important matters are on the line. President Trump is not known for following a healthy diet, but the Starburst caper reveals that our president may make allies based on shallow if not juvenile gift giving.

McCarthy to his credit realized that to get to the President’s ear policy presentations and issue discussions are not the road to victory; the President rarely reads, has a short attention span and gets his information from Fox and Friends. The policy and issue key may now be candy not reasoned debate. It is abundantly clear that challenging the President in public, questioning his veracity or worse yet failing to stroke his ego can only lead to a quick turnaround in promised legislation or a public Twitter attack, so why not try Starbursts as the path to effective executive-legislative relations.

The Democrats have been bemoaning the fact that President Trump doesn’t play fair and can’t be a reliable legislative partner, but what they should have done is feed his sweet tooth or his stomach. Maybe Nancy Pelosi should be sending the President Big Macs everyday or Minority Leader Schumer might drop by a case of Diet Cokes. It’s worth a try since traditional bipartisanship is going nowhere fast.

There is one certainty in all this Starburst strategy and that is those little red squares of sugar will either become highly popular or drop off as part of the candy elite. I know that I will put aside my politics and keep buying Starbursts, despite their use as a key to presidential access and ego stroking. Who would have thought that the issues of national concern were nothing but candy.

 

 


Tax Cuts or Entitlement Cuts?

December 6, 2017

Americans of all ages should not only be focused on the tax cut debate currently swirling around Congress but more importantly the long term impact of those cuts on yearly deficits and the nation debt. It is estimated that the cuts will add about $ 1.4 trillion to the national debt- already over $ 20 trillion- causing migrane headaches among deficit hawks, those who are getting nervous about interest payments to cover our treasury bonds, and the AARP and millennial generations who will have to pick up the tab for the gifts to corporations and the wealthy.

Since I am part of the AARP generation and our daughters and grandchildren are a few generations behind, the real story about the Republican tax bill is what will happen down the road to the entitlement benefits for grandma and grandpa and how will the youth of America be forced to deal with a certain budget crisis in order to get the nation’s finances in order?

The reason Republicans and conservatives in general are not talking that much about the deficit and national debt is that the end game of the tax cut is a shrinking of government entitlements. The shifting of money to Wall Street, corporations and the wealthy is just the first step in dismantling Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. After the GOP gets its fiscal pound of flesh from the middle class, the next step is to take on the deficits and debts that the cuts created, and the best way to do that is to chip away at the so-called “budget busters” that so many Americans rely on.

Taking on the entitlements in the name of ” fiscal responsibility” can be accomplished in two ways- substantially reducing benefits for grandma and grandpa while selling privatization schemes to the young as replacements for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Since these next steps in the Republican plan to shrink government entitlements are years away, the current legislation is being touted as putting thousands of dollars into the pockets of Main Street Americans in the near term. The political plan of the GOP is thus a small five year bonus to the middle class followed by the inevitable attack on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

If you thought that the tax cut bill was a fierce battleground separating the two political parties, just wait until the skyrocketing deficits and debt call into question the fiscal strength of the United States requiring deep cuts in government programs to be replaced by 401K Social Security, privately funded Medicare and charity tax incentives for those poor receiving Medicaid. So for all those Americans receiving either a meager bonus or a huge cash reward with the Republican bill, enjoy your refund check. But always keep in mind that these short term gains are only the first step in dismantling the entitlements that have become an integral part of the safety net in our country.


Sexual Harassment or Tax Harassment?

November 20, 2017

There is nothing like a good ol’ sex scandal to take the American public’s attention away from what really matters in their lives. Sure sexual harassment is a plague that far too many women have had to endure as lecherous bosses and co-workers make professional relationships toxic. As many have said, we may be a moment in our national culture where women in the workplace begin to be treated as equals rather than as sex objects.

But the so-called tax reform juggernaut that is being pushed through the Congress hits at the heart of every American’s pocketbook. Sexual harassment may be a debate topic at a local watering hole, but it seems that in the real world of everyday life money trumps sex ( sorry for the terrible pun). Granted that matters of fiscal policy are often difficult to grasp as there is talk of deductions, rates, arcane rules, and loopholes. Yet tax policy is really quite simple and can be summed up in one question, ” who benefits and by how much?”

It may be good for the media bottom line to get viewers to watch as the likes of Spacey, Moore, Weinstein and Franken squirm in front of the cameras or make some lame statement from a rehab  country club. Taxes, however, affect all of us and the answers to the question of ” who benefits and by how much” are not the difficult to determine. By most accounts the big guys and gals in corporate headquarters and in the gated communities will do extremely well under the Republican plans currently being debated, while most of us, who are transfixed with sexual harassment stories, will likely get a few crumbs and only for a relatively short period of time. In fact many of us either in high tax states or with mortgages over $500,000 could take a beating.

Since the tax policy is headed for a political conclusion by the end of the year, it would be wise for Americans to stop asking each other who got outed today for being a sexual jerk and switch to discussing the ” who benefits and by how much” question, after all its about money, a lot of money, and most importantly it is our money. A word to the wise – keep your eyes on your wallet not the boorish behavior of Hollywood and Washington bad boys.